Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guided Math in Action Book Study: Chapter 8

Wow, just one more chapter after this one in this awesome book study with the gals from Guided Math in Action! I have learned so much and can't wait to apply it to my math block this year. Today's chapter is about one of my passions in math: centers. I love doing centers and it is probably my favorite part of the day. 

Seriously, this is the biggest question people have when thinking about doing any type of small group. I have mentored several first year (and experienced) teachers and this is the part that gets them. They are either afraid to give up control of the whole group or don't have good systems and expectations in place to make sure students are on task.  This chapter covers a lot of the basics and would be a good place to send hesitant teachers to get ideas on implementing math centers.
My students L-O-V-E math center time. They get really upset if something disrupts our schedule or keeps us from doing them, which is rare. Our stations run like clockwork. Everyone knows what to do, how to do it and where everything goes. It doesn't magically happen though, and I spend a good amount of time at the beginning of the year working with my class on our system. When people observe my math center time, they have many questions for me:

How are centers organized?
I keep almost all my centers in gallon zip top bags. Each center has instructions or rules, any materials they'll need and is labeled on the bag. I laminate things so I can use them again and again. I keep my centers organized by topics such as time, money, addition, subtraction, graphing. I also have about a dozen math board games I got funded from a project I posted on Donor's Choose. Those are stored on top of my cabinet. The centers students will be using for the week are placed in large buckets in a central location in the classroom. They are labeled so kids can grab and go back to their desks to work. Some of my other centers are cut and paste pages or other printables and are stored in files on my computer.

How I store my math centers.

Where do I get my centers? What types of centers do I use?
I get many of my centers from TpT but I also make my own, which you can check out here. I like to have a variety of activities so kids don't get tired of them. I have board games, dice & card games, folder games, QR code centers, task cards, printables, cut and paste pages, foldables, and plain old fact fluency pages. I also use technology as much as possible because it is so engaging. I have great software from Lakeshore, carefully cultivated math game apps for iPads, and online games. Kids do not get to have a free for all on technology. They are required to play certain games (that I specify) on certain weeks. For example, when we studied shapes and attributes, the kids used a Geoboard app on the iPads (no flying rubber bands!) to create shapes with certain attributes with a partner. They could play The Allowance Game, from Lakeshore, on the interactive white board when we worked on money. My students especially love QR codes centers. Check out my Telling Time and QR Codes freebie. Students solve the problems on the task cards, write the answers on their recording sheet (accountability!) and then can use a device to scan the QR codes to check their answers. They get immediate feedback!

How do I make sure students are engaged?
First of all, my centers have to be at students' levels. They need to be varied and fun, too. Some centers are no talking (independent) centers, some are partner games, and others are small groups (4-6). They also need to finish certain centers and turn them in for accountability (see below).

What do students do if they finish a center?
I go to the library every 2-3 weeks and pick up math books that are about the topics we're studying. If students finish everything early, they know to grab a math book and read quietly at their desk. I try to find a large range of texts to keep students interested. They might be math stories such as Math for All Seasons by Greg Tang or informational books with great pictures. My students also love the Math Start series because they are written at their level.

For my advanced students or early finishers I have a few challenge pages each week. They can work on these to get extra points on Class Dojo for the week. 

How often do I do centers?  How does center time work?
I do centers 4 days a week (we release early on Wednesday so that is catch up and fix it day) and I change the centers twice a week. I have six centers (one of which is my group) and we rotate every 12-15 minutes. Students do three centers a day and must try to get to all 6 centers after two days. My rule is that if they haven't finished the center they are on, they must "pull over" and finish before moving on. I try to put a highly engaging/popular/fun center after a lesser fun one as a motivation to finish. Student groups are color coded and rotate according to the chart below:
If a student sits at the orange table, they start with the activity there and then move to the yellow table when I ring the bell. On the 2nd day, they start at the next table where they left off. At the beginning of math centers I send the table captain from each table to get their materials. The kids must clean up whatever station they end on and put materials away before they are dismissed to recess. This runs like clockwork because I spend the first several weeks teaching procedures before I even start my own group. We also sometimes have to review procedures mid year. Students know that they have to meet my expectations during center time or the fun games will go away until they can be responsible.

How often does a center repeat?
Some of my centers repeat. I have no problem with kids playing fact fluency games many times throughout the year. They go crazy with Addition Battle (or Subtraction Battle), which is played with a deck of cards like War, but the first person to say the sum of the cards gets the cards. Also, they can play the board games, computer games, software games and app games several times because it is different each time. Some centers are done only once, while others are done a few times. Often, I'll bring an old center back as a review.

How do I keep students accountable? How do I manage their work?
Many centers have what I call an accountability piece. It is just some type of paper that students would turn in. These may include recording sheets for task cards or a dice/card game, a printable or worksheet, a quick exit slip, or even a screen shot of their work or score on the iPad. If a student has an accountability piece to turn in, they must put them in a marked basket. I collect these every two days and look them over. These become part of their Fix It Packet on Wednesday.

Students also hold each other accountable for completing work correctly, not cheating, or copying. I work hard to teach them strategies for working out a problem while playing a game and that they must work things out or I'll shut down the game. They learn not to disrupt my group and come to value the uninterrupted time they get to spend with me while others are working.

So, this was a very long post. Believe me, it could have been longer! I hope you stuck with me for the whole thing because I'm doing a giveaway! Comment below and I will choose one person to win a math item of your choice from my store!

Also, check out what everyone else had to say:

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